Making a dram out of a crisis
The Outer Hebrides’ first whisky festival, On the Rocks, will be held on the Isle of Eriskay, scene of the true Whisky Galore!, on midsummer weekend.
The SS Politician wrecked on the rocks between Eriskay and South Uist in 1941, risking the loss of 250,000 bottles of whisky on board, which the war-rationed islanders were determined to save from the waves – and the taxman. The story inspired Sir Compton McKenzie’s classic novel Whisky Galore!, and an Ealing comedy set on Barra directed by Alexander MacKendrick, re-made into a new film starring Gregor Fisher and Eddie Izzard, which released in Scotland last Friday. The festival will be hosted by the island’s village hall and local pub, Am Politician, on June 2425, serving Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky’s range of Whisky Galore! malts and blends, topped up by Isle of Harris gin. The Isle of Harris Distillery will also run masterclasses, and introduce its ‘ new make spirit’, destined to mature into the Isle of Harris Single Malt, called The Hearach. Its managing director, Simon Erlanger, said: ‘The distillery was established to
support the economies not only of Harris, but of all the Outer Hebridean islands. One day it would be marvellous to see the Outer Hebrides recognised as a new whisky region of Scotland.’
The weekend will also feature the Outer Hebridean premiere of
Whisky Galore!, with Barra and Uist’s finest traditional musicians, including Gaelic singer Mairi MacInnes, who sings Gairm Na h-oidhche (Calling the Night) on Whisky Galore!.
Piper and whistle player Alana MacInnes joins fiddler and singer Eilidh Shaw to lead the weekend’s Ho-ro- gheallaidh sessions, while ceilidh band Sorradale will tear up the dance floor on midsummer’s night. One of the most beautiful and romantic traditional songs was written in praise of the island, The Eriskay Love Lilt.
There will also be an exhibition of artefacts from the SS Politician and examples of Eriskay’s unique knitted jumpers used to identify fishermen at sea, as well as readings of Father Allan MacDonald, the 19th-century Roman Catholic priest, poet and folklore collector who lived on Eriskay.
Welcoming Eriskay’s whisky festival, VisitScotland’s island manager Alan MacKenzie said the new film has a strong link with the island’s history and culture. ‘Scotland is rightly famed the world over for our traditional music, ceilidhs, songs, poetry and storytelling, not forgetting our warm hospitality,’ he said. ‘This festival encapsulates what makes the Outer Hebrides such a draw for visitors from all corners of the globe.’
Eriskay is also famed for the beautiful jewel-like colours of the water, machair and sandy beaches, including Coilleag a’Phrionnsa (the Prince’s Cockle Strand), where Bonnie Prince Charlie took his first step onto Scottish soil to launch the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Eriskay also boasts rich wildlife from corncrakes and otters, to their very own Eriskay ponies – there are only 400 of them left on the planet.
Euan Shand, chairman of Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky, said: ‘I loved the original film and, over 30 years ago, wanted to create whiskies that would celebrate the original Whisky
Galore! story. The Eriskay midsummer festival gives us a perfect opportunity to celebrate the remake of the film in this stunning part of Scotland.’
In the words of Para Handy in Neil Munro’s tales the Vital Spark: ‘So pack up your clarsach and away let us go to the land of the Haderum Ho…’
Sent from Heaven: Gregor Fisher, who plays postmaster Macroon in the 2016 remake of Whisky Galore!, finds a bottle of amber nectar washed ashore from the shipwrecked SS Cabinet Minister.
Islanders of the fictional Hebridean island of Todday struggle to save as many of the shipwreck’s 26,000 cases of whisky as they can.
Men of Isle of Harris Distillery waiting for their single malt to mature.